10 August 2007

Schiffner alone on top

By Rich Eldred
GateHouse News Service

Brewster - In a week of baseball milestones for Barry Bonds, Tom Glavine and A-Rod, John Schiffner may have logged the most surprising.

     Not that anyone was shocked when the Chatham A’s manager collected his 335th career Cape League victory last Thursday night, 10-1 over Bourne but even Schiffner never dreamed of such a possibility fifteen years ago. The head coach at Plainfield High in N.J. was in his 9th season as an A’s assistant when manager Rich Hill, who’d led the team to the 1992 Cape League Championship, left abruptly to start a new college job. His emergency replacement has been there ever since.

     During the last decade and a half he’s eclipsed all other mangers in total victories to set the league record, passing former Y-D and Wareham rival Don Reed’s tally of 335. Who’d have thought that possible in fifteen years ago.

     “No, I never thought about it until I got my 200th win. I never did it for the wins. I did it for the opportunity,” Schiffner reflected.
Cape League Commissioner Paul Galop served as Chatham’s team president and treasurer between 1994-2004 and he watched Schiffner up close.

     “Virtually all the people he’s passed on the way were with multiple teams; Don Reed, Eddie Lyons, Bill Livesey,” Galop pointed out. “To do this with one franchise is remarkable, it’s quite an accomplishment. It shows his dedication to the franchise and the franchise’s dedication to him. Kids want to come to Chatham.” 

     Schiffner gives a lot of the credit for that to the town and team.

     “I start at the top with the Chatham Athletic Association. They bring the kids in and make them feel so comfortable. They treat them so well. We rent these kids and we try not to mistreat them. We try to play everybody as often as we can. Wins are not the only thing. We never put winning ahead of the fact that these kids are here to get better,” he said. 

     When he recruits Schiffner tries to make sure the players will be able to handle the adjustment’s to Cape League play and possible adversity they could face adjusting to hitting with wood bats. That can discourage a lot of hitters.

     “The wood bats are definitely the biggest adjustment. The pitchers are on cloud nine because they can throw inside now,” Schiffner said. “It’s such a pitcher’s league. It can take the kids any length of time to adjust.”

     He has become a trusted caretaker of baseball talent.

     “He has got a great report with a lot of college programs because they know he’s going to take care of their kids in the summer,” Galop said. “The kids are not going to get buried on the bench, everybody plays. The pitchers aren’t going to get burned out.”

     “I’ve been around a long time and the coaches know what they are getting when they send their kids to Chatham,” Schiffner noted. “There is a relationship there. I lean a lot on some programs but those programs are in the top ten in the country.”

     The University of Southern California, North Carolina, South Carolina and UCLA have all sent many players to Chatham and Schiffner has coached Jason Bay (Pirates), David Bush (Brewers), Rich Hill (Cubs), Mike Lowell (Red Sox), Brian Roberts (Orioles), Kyle Snyder (Red Sox), Chris Young (Padres) and Andrew Miller (Tigers) on their way to the pros.

     And they do wind up winning. Schiffner guided the A’s to the Cape League championship in 1996 and 1998 and he was named manager of the year in 1999. When the A’s (25-14) clinched a playoff spot this weekend it marked the tenth time since 1993. They’ve won five East Division titles in that time. His teams always seem to be peaking as the season winds down. This year they’ve won 14 of their last 19 games.

     “In the later stages of the season everybody is tired, it’s a long grind, everybody wants to go home. We like to think that Chatham people want to go home the least,” Schiffner said. 

     In his regular life Schiffner teaches history at Plainfield High in New Jersey, and not surprisingly coaches the baseball team there. They’ve won 420 games. His students and ex-students often drop by the Cape during the summer, he was chatting with two after the game on Monday.

     Schiffner played at Providence College, graduating in 1977, and he played for the Harwich Mariners (1974-76). He first coached for the A’s in 1980, under Ed Lyons, and watched that team win a championship. He returned for the 92 championship under Rich Hill and met his wife Martha in Chatham.

     “I just like seeing the players, whether they are my own or players on other teams” he said. “It’s such a great opportunity for me to be here for 44 games. To watch them play is a rush. It’s fantastic. These are kids in the purest sense of baseball now. They want to perform day in and day out at a high level of play that is the finest you’ll see,” Schiffner said. “I’m certainly in awe of the league and feel very humbled and distinguished to be there for so long.”